Drawing Father

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At ten years old, I liked to jump out of my bedroom window at night and lie on my back behind the house. Here I could think about whatever I wanted without fear that the echoes of my mind might be heard by Mother. I often thought that Mother should not hate me; it would had been better if she’d loved me like other mothers who love their children. But it turned out that Mother preferred to hate me.

My feud with Mother began when I was only four months in her womb. Mother wished that I would never pop out. She pushed all types of drugs into her tummy to pummel my head, puncture my lungs, weaken my heart, and poison my growth. That was why I prayed all day all night to be given strength to withstand her efforts to suppress my existence. I also asked help from my friends – the white beings that were instructed to guard me – so that they would help me resist the onslaughts launched by that woman.

“Why do you think that woman wants to pulverize me?” I asked them.

“She’s afraid she’ll give birth to a wolf,” one answered.

“She thinks I’m a wolf.”

“That woman got you from the streets.”

“That’s why she thinks I’m a wolf?”

“That’s why she thinks you’re a wolf.”

That was not my fault. I wanted to protest. But my friends said that the woman didn’t care whether it was my fault or not. She just did not want to let the seed grow that had barged into her womb from the pipes of a man from the streets.

“But that’s her fault,” I yelled. “She liked the streets herself. Didn’t she always go swishing about in places where men were floppping down left and right?”

I imagined thousands of men thrashing around in the bushes, like snakes lurking for prey. Perhaps my mother was bitten by those snakes and so a seed grew in her womb. And so I grew.

Perhaps because she was ashamed that her belly was getting bigger, my mother wanted to root out the seed. How evil. No matter what, I had to be born; I didn’t care in what form. When I got strong enough, I would slap my mother so she would recognize her faults.

My friends built a strong fort to protect me. In front of this fort they stood guard. With all their strength they drove off the poisons that took aim at my life. Although the fort protecting me was very sturdy, and my friends were never careless about guarding me, sometimes poison managed to get in and touch my skin. My body became very hot and my eyes stung so badly every time my mother plunged a drug into her belly. Every day the medicines she swallowed grew more potent.

“Looks like I can’t protect you anymore,” said one of the white beings one day. “But I will never leave you.”

I was touched by its loyalty. This friend of mine did look exhausted. Its white body looked a bit bluish. But good friends never calculate their own safety. I felt sorry for it. My other friend was in better condition. It was able to endure more. Only its head got a little bit dizzy.

“I hope you’re still strong yourself,” it said to me. “Only half a month to go.”

Half a month was too long. Three days later I writhed my way out of Mother’s belly. I told my friends that I could not take it any longer. I asked them to push me out.

“Are you ready?” they asked.

“Maybe not. But she keeps on spraying me with poison. I just want to get out,” I replied.

They pushed me out. My cries tore Mother’s guts. She fainted after giving birth to me. My head didn’t have a nice shape, my eyes bulged large, and one of my arms was longer than the other. After coming to, Mother raised me in anger. She became a whirlwind that slammed at me. I felt lonely because the white beings were no longer beside me.

In my mind they went back to the sky; that is why when night falls, I like to jump out of my window and lie behind the house staring upwards. I miss my friends who guarded me. Perhaps one day I’ll see them among the stars. Jumping from one star to the other. I ask the stars in the sky. “If you see my friends, please tell them to come to my house. Enter from the roof and don’t let Mother find out.”

After saying that, I usually go back in through the same window. In the room I again stare at the ceiling and keep on hoping that my friends show up from the rooftop to see me. But usually I can find only cockroaches on the ceiling. I know, these creatures have never been friends with humans, because no human wants to become their friends. My Mother also dislikes cockroaches; she always takes her sandal off if she sees one passing by and she pummels it with the sandal in her hand until the animal is pulverized.

“Why don’t you protest?” I asked one day.

“What can we protest?” they asked back fiercely.

“You have always been killed innocently.”

“Because we are cockroaches.”

“Is that so?”

“You are also a cockroach.”

“I’m a human.”

“To your mother, you’re a cockroach.”

“You insult me. My Mother considers me a wolf.”

“You’re just a cockroach.”

“I want to kill you because you insult me.”

I really wanted to kill them. Because cockroaches should not insult humans. I bolted towards the ceiling to hunt the cockroach. It flew. I jumped from the bed to the table, from the table to the wall, and then from wall to wall. The cockroach and I were pursuing each other, making a racket.[1]

Mother smashed the door to my room and punched obscenities into my ears. Her mouth spurted a storm and reeked of alcohol. I really wanted to say to her, “Why do you always come bringing a storm to me?” But the storm could never be interrupted by any kind of question. She slapped me with a sandal until I tumbled. The cockroach I was chasing flew out of the room.

 

MOTHER never knew that I always missed her. If I wanted I could actually have slipped into her room when she was asleep, and strangled her by the throat. But I didn’t want to do that. I am a longing person. I long for anything. For the stars, for the cockroaches on the ceiling, for the white beings that saved me, and for Mother’s hand.

I longed for Mother’s hand on my forehead, and for that hand to move slowly stroking me until I fall asleep. She never did this. This longing became a poison that clogged my blood. Sometimes my breathing felt suffocated. Perhaps the poison also blocked my breathing.

I also longed for the snakes. One of them was surely my father. I wanted to greet him and say, “Good morning, dad. It’s me, your son. I see that your hair is greying. I would like to pluck your white hairs so you look younger. Or would you like me to make you a drink?”

Mother never introduced me to anything that I could call father. If one day she’d brought home a man and told me that he was my father, I would have been very happy. Perhaps he’d be someone who liked to kill women and suck their saliva in order to gain magical powers,[2] or perhaps someone who liked to slap other people when he’s drunk. Wouldn’t matter. What mattered was that there’d be someone I could call Father. I prepared myself to address as Father anyone my Mother brought home.

But no man I could call Father ever came. It looked like it would never occur to Mother to give me a Father. And so I made my own father. In my room, I drew the stick of a penis. Long like a snake. I was actually drawing my father. He circled around clutching my bedroom walls. Every day before sleeping I talked with him and told him about all my troubles. I saw his head throb. He was alive. He was speaking. He considered all my complaints.

That drawing then became whatever I wanted. He became not only my father, but also my teacher. I learned about all kinds of things from him. I learned how to channel my will, learned to rebel, and learned to fight for what I wanted. I learned how to make things go my way from this drawing of a penis stuck on my bedroom wall.[3]

As the days went on I felt that we were becoming closer. Me and this drawing. I wanted him to be with me wherever I went. I wanted to always be close to my father so that he could keep an eye on my development. A good father, they say, should be able to be a dad, a teacher, and a playmate for his children. When I wanted my father to be a playmate, I drew him small. When I wanted him as my teacher, I drew him big.

“You should always be with me, Father,” I said. “You should keep an eye on me as I grow. There are many children who lose their way because their father keeps on leaving them. I don’t want to be a child who loses his way.”

So he would alway be near me, I drew him everywhere in various sizes. Sometimes I put a necktie on his neck. I very much liked seeing him wearing a necktie; he looked like an office worker. Sometimes I put a moustache over his mouth. He seemed commanding and looked just like a president.

In no time the walls of my house became full of drawings of my father. So then I drew on every wall I found before me. Other children liked to see me draw my father’s face everywhere. I kept on walking by the city walls. The children who were following me grew in numbers. I introduced them to my father one by one. They chuckled.

I was happy to see them chuckle.

But not everyone likes to see children chuckle. One day a man got angry at me because he thought I was making his wall dirty. He blurted insults at me; I just kept silent.

“Crazy kid! Where’s your brain?” he barked.

I hated him so much. In my mind, he was the one who was crazy. I was drawing my father, why should he be angry?

“You can draw your father, too. Don’t just get angry at me,” I barked back.

When he wiped off the drawing I made, I couldn’t let it slide. I didn’t like what he did. He wanted to separate me and my father. So I slapped his face. That’s the only fair reward for someone who disturbs other people’s family affairs.

“If you separate me from my father again, I’ll slap you harder.”

I was very happy that he learned his lesson in dealing with me. I have to remember this, when facing anyone who doesn’t want to understand others. Sometimes we just have to act tough. This was what I taught him so he could respect other people’s happiness. No one should just think of their own happiness alone.

But apparently this guy was quite crafty. He reported me to my mother. And mother beat me up over and over again after that.

“Crazy kid! Where’s your brain?” She imitated the guy I had just slapped.

“I was drawing my father,” I explained. “Why are you hitting me?”

She looked at me like I was a heap of trash. I looked at her also like looking at a heap of trash. If I’d wanted to, that night I could have just slipped into her bedroom and strangled her by the neck until she was dead.

“If I want, tonight I can just slip into your bedroom and strangle you,” I said. “Why don’t you just run away to the mountaintops?”

My eyes were sparking like the wick of a hand grenade. I could have exploded right then and there and destroyed her.

“I want you to save yourself and go to the mountaintops,” I suggested one more time.

I had to tell her this. I am someone who longs for everything. But Mother did not know that I longed for her. Years ago she thought that she would give birth to a wolf from her womb. In my opinion, she should have been careful of her own thoughts because her bad thoughts could harm her. So just let her go to the mountaintops. I think this was the best way for her. If her eyes had still met mine by the next morning, I would have strangled her. Because, I could not keep on looking at a heap of trash in my house.

The next morning, Mother crawled onto the mountaintop.[4] I still draw father everywhere, still sleep behind the house when it gets dark, and I still miss Mother. Now I like to talk to the mountaintop that I can see from my bedroom window. There is my Mother.

 

 

[1] One of the characters in the short story “Orez” by Budi Darma is a pregnant woman who jumps around in her room, from the floor to the sink counter, to the toilet, the shelf racks, and so on.

[2] From news in the newspapers about a medicine man in Deli Serdang (Sumatra) who killed 42 women and sucked their saliva in order to gain magical powers. In his confession, he believed that his powers would be perfected if he killed 70 women.

[3] In one of the [Javanese] shadow puppet stories, there is a figure called Bambang Ekalaya who wants to become a disciple of the priest Durna but is turned away because he’s not royalty. Ekalaya then sculpts a statue of Durna and learns archery under the gaze of this statue until he becomes an accomplished, magical archer.

[4] In the Holy Books, Noah’s child refuses to get into his father’s ark and chooses instead to run to the mountaintops to flee the great flood.

 

Translated by Nelden Djakababa and Greg Harris

 

Image: “Bleary Eyed” by Quinn Dombrowski, licensed under CC 2.0

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